Dear Dr. Johnson: How can I prevent my child from getting mosquito bites?
Dear Reader: It is that time of year. According to expert predictions, mosquitoes will be worse this year given the mild temperatures and all the wet weather. How to avoid the pesky insects and their itchy bites has been a frequent topic of discussion in the clinic recently. While I have discussed this topic before, I thought sharing it again might be helpful.
Children are especially vulnerable to insect bites. They may be too young to let you know they are being bitten or they may be playing too hard to be aware of it. Many young children also will have a more profound reaction to mosquito bites, with redness and swelling. They also are more likely to scratch the bite, which can introduce bacteria under the skin and cause an infection.
So do I recommend keeping your child inside to avoid these pesky critters? Quite the contrary. While it might be best with very small children to avoid being out at sunrise and sunset, when mosquitoes tend to be the worst, I recommend playing outside as much as possible. But take steps to be sure you and your child are less appealing to the mosquitoes and other biting insects looking for dinner.
There are many products marketed to repel mosquitoes. While some may be beneficial, the products containing the chemical DEET have proven to be the most effective. The percent of DEET correlates to the duration of protection. Products with about 10 percent DEET provide about two hours of protection. Products with 20 percent DEET would provide about four hours of protection. However, more than 30 percent DEET has not been shown to provide additional protection.
Bug spray should mainly be applied to clothing and shoes, with a small amount to the skin. Avoid spraying directly on the face. You can spray it on your hands and then rub in on your child’s face. Do not apply to anything that may go in the mouth, such as a child’s hands. If your child is in a stroller, spray the stroller.
A few words of caution: Do not use bug sprays on infants under 2 months of age. Young children should not be allowed to apply their own bug spray. And try to avoid inhaling the bug spray.
Also, do not use combination sunscreen and bug spray products, as sunscreen needs to be reapplied frequently and bug spray does not.
If your child does get bug bites that itch, topical over-the-counter hydrocortisone ointment can help. For kids over age 2, oral diphenhydramine (Benadryl) also can help with severe itching. I do not recommend Benadryl ointments or creams, as how much is absorbed through the skin is variable. If the area becomes painful or has increasing redness or thick pus drainage, seek care because it may have become infected.
Have a great summer enjoying the outdoors with hopefully few mosquito bites.
This column provides general health information and is not specific advice intended for any particular individual(s). It is not a professional medical opinion or a diagnosis. Always consult your personal health care provider about your concerns. No ongoing relationship of any sort (including but not limited to any form of professional relationship) is implied or offered by Dr. Johnson to people submitting questions.